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Archive for the ‘Arts and Crafts’ Category

DT4972One of my summertime reads has been “Clara and Mr. Tiffany” by Susan Vreeland.  It is our book discussion group’s choice for the September meeting and has been a pleasant diversion for me on these August afternoons as I follow Clara Driscoll, recently  acknowledged as one of the designers for Louis Comfort Tiffany. While this is a fictional account, the reader meets historical figures as well as a colorful array of imagined characters along with amazing details surrounding the inception of Tiffany stained glass, and the process of working with stained glass; from the male glass blowers to the cadre of single women, many immigrant daughters of New York City at the turn of the century, who artfully assemble the glass.

In a delightful passage,  Clara describes a scene beginning at the beach while on a brief holiday with friends in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. The women “put on our scanty bathing costumes” with “nothing around our calves but air!” as they wade in the ocean then take a walk, discovering Queen Anne’s lace.  Clara describes the flowers as “Cluster of tiny white flowers grew out from a single point on the stalk like a burst of fireworks”. The wild carrots remind one woman of lace, another of dandelions, and seeds of ideas sprout in Clara’s mind for Tiffany candlesticks.

I read a bit more, then put down the book, life calling me to some household chore. The scene, however, lingered in my thoughts as my day wore on. Later, I employed Mr. Google and found, in the verdant pasture of the internet, this most extraordinary piece of jewelry pictured here – Queen Anne’s Lace by Tiffany. It is a “hair ornament”, a fitting accessory for the start of a century that would prove to be as turbulent at it was innovative and exciting.

The source of this image can be found here, with some written detail as to the gems used. You MUST click on the cluster of gems for a closer look at not only the jewels, but the enameling as well, and to see the little flowers and the garnets of bursting “fireworks” in the center.

At 3 1/2 inches, I cannot imagine wearing this as a hair ornament, but, as a lover of brooches and pins, I am sure I could find the perfect place to adorn a jacket or dress with this plucking of Queen Anne’s Lace.

Isn’t it amazing how these small pleasures in life often emerge via literature  – Call on a summer’s day?

 

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Imp1fashionBartholomeHow I wish you could see this magnificent painting, In the Conservatory, by Albert Bartholome – and how I wish you could see the actual dress, worn by Madame Bartholome for the painting. Both are as breathtakingly fresh as an early summer day, and both are part of an exhibition currently at the Art Institute of Chicago, Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernitywhich explores “the fascinating relationship between art and fashion from the mid-1860s through the mid-1880s” with a stunning ensemble of 75 impressionist paintings as well as period dresses, hats, undergarments, and other fashionable items of the era.

My friend Bev graciously invited me to see the exhibition last Friday, much to my delight and gratitude. We boarded a morning commuter train, along with those who ride the rails into Chicago on a daily basis, and a hoard of teenagers heading down to the Lakefront for Lollapalooza, a yearly “rock fest” in Grant Park.

The day was a contrast in fashion. The teens were wearing the sorts of clothing young people wear these days; shorts with boots, tank tops on top of tank tops, a sprinkling of maxi and mini skirts, and more than a few wellies. Rain was predicted. In fact, there had been a downpour just hours before and the clouds were hanging heavy off of Lake Michigan, clinging to the spire of the John Hancock. Bev and I carried umbrellas, just in case, and wore sensible shoes, as well as light summer sweaters to chase the chill of air conditioning. No one out and about was dressed as a woman of means, out for a stroll on an August day in 1870, would have dressed.

What a contrast we all were to the lawn and walking dresses, the morning clothes and evening attire, all whose impressions were exquisitely framed and hung in the galleries of the Art Institute,  along with the dozen or so dresses that were contained under glass. Oh, to see the detailing in the dresses of the 19th century; the small waistlines, the linen, satin, and brushed velvet, the bows and buttons, the pleating and stitching! I’ve always been attracted to detail – and the period clothing displayed had it in spades.

The mood in the galleries was subtle, from the period wall paper as backdrop for many of the dresses, to the salon sofas,  grass carpeting and park benches for the paintings set in gardens and the faint chirping of birds. A feast for the senses.

We talked and walked, oohed and ahed, ate lunch in the courtyard, visited the gift shop, then made our way to the doors, where we began our slow retreat home, past tens of thousand of teenagers now pushing east to the park, which swelled to 100,000.  There we were, like salmon, swimming upstream, and I wondered how arduous our trek would have been in Madame Bartholome’s dress, which made quite an impression on me.

Yes, the day was a contrast in fashion – and a treat for the senses!

Thank you, Bev, for sharing such an experience with me.

Image found here.

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189428I originally knew Tasha Tudor through the many books she illustrated, some of which she also wrote herself. “Pumpkin Moonshine” was her first published book, followed by the “calico” books, then her illustrations of classics, including those of Louisa May Alcott and Frances Hodgson Burnett, along with cookbooks, nursery rhymes, fairy tales, and a host of other illustrative endeavors.

It wasn’t until the late 1990’s that I discovered Tasha Tudor herself when a series of books about her idyllic lifestyle on a hill-top “west of New Hampshire and east of Vermont” were published. A happenstance discovery of “The Private World of Tasha Tudor ” in a bookstore soon took me on a remarkable journey of learning about Tasha Tudor – and a little bit about myself in the process.

A diminutive woman steeped in old Yankee ways, Tasha’s book, “The Private World of Tasha Tudor” took me inside her Vermont farmhouse, Corgi Cottage, out to her gardens, and into her unique imagination. Tasha Tudor led much of her life steeped in the 1800’s, wearing clothing of that period, weaving her own cloth, making her own candles, and eventually building a house in Vermont that visitors were hard pressed to believe was built in the late 20th century.

In her lifetime, Ms. Tudor was asked by President Johnson to make ornaments for the White House Christmas tree, her hand crafted dollhouse with its furnishings and dolls, made by Tasha, were on display at the Abbey Aldrich Rockefeller Center, and Life Magazine once photographed the wedding of two of her dolls. (The dolls, being quite modern, eventually separated.) After a television interview, Tasha Tudor became an icon for those who sought the simpler life of getting “back to the land”.

It was “The Private World of Tasha Tudor” that took me in, made me feel at home, and spurred a rather large collection of all things Tasha Tudor, as well as an appreciation for the photography of Richard W. Brown, who lives in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.

“Tasha Tudor’s Garden” is where I often go for garden inspiration. I long to grow foxgloves six feet tall like Tasha Tudor did, and I wish I could encourage my roses to ramble 189425with wild abandon as those in her garden. I’ve given up on sweet peas – well, almost given up, we’ll see. I’ll try them one more time. The point is that Tudor’s garden is lush, a bit whimsical in nature and all that a cottage garden should be. Some of the seeds sown in it are ancestors from two centuries ago. Richard Brown collaborated with Tovah Martin on this book. I love her style of writing and would not be stretching the truth at all to say that she has influenced how I “talk” about my own garden.

Together, Brown and Martin produced a third book, “Tasha Tudor’s Heirloom Crafts”, which is a unique glimpse into the many ways Tudor adopted a 19th century lifestyle into the modern era we all live in. It is chock full of pictures and words about Tasha’s kitchen, the extensive collection she amassed of 18th and 19th century clothing, her well utilized barn that connects to the house in the manner New Englanders use, and the marionettes that led to “A Dolls’Christmas” and helped keep her growing family fed with the performances they starred in. It is a book in which to find Tasha weaving and painting and making candles and all manner of other crafts that she continued to employ into her eighth decade.

Tasha Tudor died a few years ago, just before her 92 birthday, if memory serves me correctly. Some of her clothing sold for handsome sums. A museum is underway in her memory. There is still a family website for all things Tasha Tudor, as well as those of her family.

Itt5 first learned of a tin kitchen from books about Tasha Tudor. I was determined to try roasting a chicken in front of fire from the moment I saw her doing so using a tin kitchen. I looked at antique malls, fairs, and searched the internet for about six years before literally stumbling upon one at an antique fair one afternoon. My giddiness was a dead give-away to the seller if there ever was one as my foot brushed against it, I looked down to see what was in my path, only to hop back in pure glee, exclaiming “it’s a tin kitchen”! I lugged it home and before much time had passed, I cleaned it up and managed to roast a whole chicken in it in front of an open fireplace. I can’t begin to tell you how delicious it tasted, or express my sense of accomplishment at having figured out how to cook with it.  How I miss that fireplace of our old house. How I miss that roasted chicken.

 

Well, I rambled about much like Tasha Tudor’s roses. When Juliet mentioned she knew of Tasha Tudor’s books, but not much about her, I thought it might be a good spot in time to share some of the books I have that illustrate the life of such a well-known illustrator, thinking they might interest some of you as well.

It is very cold here, with the temperatures hovering around 16° F. Snow is dancing about, looking for trees and bushes and rooftops to cling to. I think I’ll make a cup of tea and invite Tasha Tudor to visit me for a spell. Which book will I select?

 

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Mary is a dear friend to many, especially the members of the Elmhurst Garden Club. She has served the club in so many ways with her knowledge, determination, good grace and sparkling wit. Mary was instrumental in helping to rally members in an effort to save the Great Western Prairie, among other endeavors and held many club positions. She remains inspiration to me; an ever-blooming flower in the garden of my life.

These days, Mary can’t get out and about like she would like to. Health issues necessitated her moving from her home to assisted living and have limited her participation in the many activities she enjoyed. It could not have been easy for her to face so many life changes, yet she has done so with her sense of humor intact, participating in activities she can, and she is embarking on new adventures.

On Monday, our garden club held an auction in lieu of a program. Members donated fine items they no longer use; hand painted children’s furniture, crystal candle holders, tea sets, even original artwork. We are gardeners; progressive when it comes to the environment, horticulture, sustainability, scholarship, saving the monarchs. We are equally conservative when it comes to what and how we spend money. All this to say that none of the winning bids were exorbitant. We could all afford to eat dinner last night, some left with presents to tuck away for the holidays, and we had fun in the process as the garden club’s coffers increased a bit.

One of the auction items was a painting. A simple clay pot of purple flowers as bright as an April day. I could almost feel the dirt under my fingernails and the sunshine on my face. The painting is now mine; it’s soft, muted colors of periwinkle and sage politely waiting to be framed. The artist was our Mary, who recently took up painting!

What an inspiration Mary is. This endearing potted plant is just what I needed, not only to focus on what is really important, but to be uplifted by Mary’s example of fortitude and her endeavors to continue to learn something new. Her creativity and never-ending ability to give to others, along with her budding talent, are a gift to us all, and now, dear reader, my gift to you.

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Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn and caldron bubble.

Fillet of a fenny snake,

In the caldron boil and bake;

Eye of newt and toe of frog,

Wool of bat and tongue of dog,

Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,

Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,

For a charm of powerful trouble,

Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn and caldron bubble.

Cool it with a baboon’s blood,

Then the charm is firm and good.

Song of the Witches by William Shakespeare

Image of Girls Night Out by Will Moses

Just one more for girls who wanna have fun – after the ads.

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“In 1906 Laura Ingalls Wilder visited her daughter, Rose, in Kansas City, MO. While she was there this studio picture was made. Her life in the LITTLE HOUSE books was just a memory and her writing career had not begun.”

From a postcard of Laura Ingalls Wilder Home Association, Mansfield, Missouri

If you guessed Laura Ingalls Wilder as the lady in yesterday’s post, you were correct.

It was many years after posing for this picture that Laura began writing what became known as the LITTLE HOUSE books. When most of us think of Laura Ingalls Wilder, we think of a little girl with her long hair flowing and a bonnet hanging down her back, for Laura did not like to wear hats. We may think of her as the matronly woman below, but, we rarely think of her striking such a pose. It tickled my fancy when I saw the postcard in the gift shop in October when Tom and I visited one of the Laura Ingall’s Wilder sites in Burr Oak, Iowa.

Those of you who have read my blog for a while know my love and appreciation of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her children’s books. The LIttle House books are the story of Laura and her family as they travel from Pepin, Wisconsin to the vast, unsettled prairies, living in cabins and depots and sod houses. Hers is the story of family, with all the hardships and joys that life has to offer, especially during the second half of the 19th century as families moved further and further west, seeking good farm land and opportunities. Her books are the story of the pioneering spirit that settled much of the United States.

Those of you unfamiliar with my ramblings on LMA and this remarkable series of books that have delighted children, and children at heart like me, might want to start at the blog I wrote last fall. That one will lead you to others if you wish more. You can find it here.

Better yet, forget my blog. Go right to the books, starting with Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods. If you are stuck under several feet of snow, read about The Long Winter.

You were such good sports about not telling who the lovely lady was, and patient in waiting if you did not.  Thank you.

I have always been in awe of Laura. She wrote for local newspapers during her adult life, but it wasn’t until she was 65 years old that her first book was published. Her books have remained on the bookshelves in stores, libraries, and homes ever since and have brought to life a unique time in American history.

It’s funny, isn’t it, how a picture on a postcard can become an online conversation in a blog? I wonder how Louisa, and other writers as well, would feel about this thing we call the internet and about blogging.

Our tea was delightful. I wore a feather in my flowered hat, and will tell you all about it in another post.

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Bloomers. Late bloomers, to be exact. Late bloomers are not just flowers. Late bloomers are like the 72 year old English gentlewoman, Mary Granville Pendarves Delany, who, upon seeing a geranium petal fall, picked up a scissors and a piece of paper and invented the art of “flower mosaicks”. Mrs. Delany began snipping and pasting botanicals in 1782 and in so doing invented the art of floral collage. She went on to produce 985 individual pieces of paper upon which sit amazing botanicals and can be viewed at the British Museum. The intricate cut tissue pieces , placed with amazing accuracy and botanic interest, rest upon a black background. They appear more as paintings than collages. Her story is amazing and a challenge to all as we age, from any age forward, that we can keep growing and learning and developing ourselves.

. . . a meditation on late life creativity.” Molly Peacock

It was with delight that I plucked off of that ever-growing literary vine The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life’s Work at 72 by Molly Peacock. I happened upon a few intriguing reviews of this book. Its pages called to me like the roses about to bloom in my own garden. The fact that Mrs. Delany was 72 when she began her life’s work and that she was a twice-widowed gentlewoman of the 18th century, living off of the kindness of gentry, drew me further into her life.

This book was written by Molly Peacock. Is there a better name for a poet and author? Peacock is a noted American/Canadian poet who first learned of Mrs. Delany several decades ago.

I am always in awe of how books, good books, come about. When and where the germ of a story is born and the path a writer often takes to reach its fruition boggles my mind. The research involved, the pouring over Delany’s letters, the sustained interest in such a biography is amazing to me; someone who nervously ponders 300 or so words about life as it is on a place called a cutoff. Peacock does not disappoint.

I’ve just opened The Paper Garden ; its pages still crisp and pristine, Mrs. Delany’s “mosaicks” appearing delicately throughout the book, with Ms. Peacock’s poetic prose hanging upon its pages. A few chapters into it, I will not read this book in one or two sittings. I will savor and enjoy it throughout the summer sitting under the arbor or on a park bench as the life of this amazing woman opens up and blooms.

I will learn more about her early marriage, at the age of 17. A forced union to the 60 year old Pendarves whose wealth is needed by the Granvilles.

I will read about the 20 some years after Pendarves’ death as Mrs. Delany, a young widow, maneuvers around the mores and dictates of the 18th century and befriends John Welsey, Lord Baltimore, George Fredric Handel – and Jonathan Swift, who introduces her to Dr. Patrick Delany, her second husband who encourages her gardening and botanical interests and seems, at first blush to this reader, to become a partner and friend.

I will learn of her loyalty to the Crown and her admiration and love for her sister and confidante and of how, out of grief, she comes to invent an art form and to produce a remarkable legacy, her “flower mosaicks”. I’m certain I will seek out Molly Peacock’s poetry and you will likely find me, on a summer’s eve, sitting upon the deck and reading aloud, for poetry, to me,  really must be read aloud.

Off I go now, hand spade and watering can, thoughts of my own flower petals, to plant and dig in the dirt. You might like to see Molly Peacock talking about The Paper Garden, Mary Delany, and trying to make her own mosaick by clicking here.

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When the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan last week, my good friend Janet mentioned that it brought to mind the children’s book, The Big Wave, by Pearl S. Buck. It rested on my mind, for most of a week. I finally checked our inter-library loan system and found several copies in the immediate area libraries. In light of the present devastation in Japan, I was surprised to see that only one copy had been checked out. The book was released in 1947, with many editions since then. I wanted an older copy, and actually found one at a library very close.

The 1947 copy, which you see here,  has beautiful images of prints of famous Japanese artists, Hiroshige (1797 – 1858) and Hokusai (1760 – 1849). I believe they are from woodcuts. Pearl Buck wanted to use pictures that would “express the spirit of Japan and her people.” adding, in her introduction, that “If you look long enough and deeply into the pictures while you read the story, you will know how it seems to be in Japan, and you will understand Kino and Jiya and when you understand them, you will like them.”  The cover illustration is Hiroshige.

The book is about two boys; Kino, who lives on a farm on a mountain overlooking a seaside fishing village below, and Jiya, who lives in the village. It is about their friendship, their lives, and how they live them.

Kino asks Jiya why there are no windows in the houses that face the ocean. Jiya tells him that the sea is their enemy. Any time the big wave can come. Kino asks his father why the sea is an enemy. His father tells him that we learn to live with danger in life. That is alright to think about such things, but to not live in fear, as there is much in life to enjoy.

As the story, a very short one, goes on, there are rumblings from the volcano and then a tsunami hits the shore. As the sea starts to roil, Jiya’s father tells him he must go so that the family will be separated. In doing so, not everyone will be lost. Jiya runs up the mountain to Kino’s house, where he, Kino, and Kino’s father see the entire village below swallowed up by the big wave.

In the telling of the story, the reader learns about bravery and grief and desperation, while also growing to know how good life is. It tells about the spirit of a people, much like what is happening right now in Japan, but a spirit that also lives in Christchurch, New Zealand, and in the Gulf Coast states, in Louisiana and Mississippi, still building after Katrina and then the oil spill. There is strength to be gathered in such a little book. I was surprised that it was so available right now. That no one is checking this book out.  I think it could be useful in helping younger children understand what is happening and how to cope with it all. I know it helped me.

The Big Wave is still available in bookstores. Pearl S. Buck is an author long admired for her stories of China and Japan, most notably The Good Earth. This book is beautifully written and I did, as the author hoped, looked deeply at the pictures and I felt the life in them, and I liked the two young boys as I learned about their lives.

As I read, I also felt the loveliness of friendship over the span of many years and the gratitude of being reminded of The Big Wave by such a friend. (Thank you, Janet. I think I needed this book as much as anyone might.)

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I missed the opening reception of an art exhibit my good friend Kathryn had several paintings in this past January. We have been trying to get to the Hinsdale Center for the Arts for several weeks since. Today we were finally able to meet up. I’m so glad I was able to see her paintings in such a fine setting in Katherine Legge Park and I am so very proud of her. Over the years of a long friendship, I have grown to appreciate watercolors largely through my gifted friend’s influence and exceptional work.

I’ve also been the recipient of several of Kathryn’s watercolors, one of which hangs in a special place here in the library/den where I am usually found working.

Rarely do Kathryn and I meet when food is not involved. Today was no different. Lunch at the Moon Dance Diner and then desert at Kirstin’s Bakery a few doors down made for a most enjoyable time to talk, laugh, and generally solve the world’s problems.

Not a bad way to spend the last day of February.

Our world was covered in millions and millions of tiny droplets of ice this morning as we met up. They were so beautiful dripping in frozen disbelief all around the park and up the walk to the art center.

Thank you, Kathryn, for all the beauty your paintings bring.

 

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Crochet

I don’t know if it is because this is her birthday month, or because I am a grandmother myself now. Maybe it is this hankering I’ve had to crochet something. Whatever has precipitated my longing, I have been thinking a great deal about my paternal grandmother lately. She’s in my dreams and seems to be sitting on my shoulder, guiding me these days.

I see her when I look at my hands.

I have my Yia Yia’s hands. She had small hands and so do I. Like Jo’s hair, which sister Meg cries is her one true beauty in Little Women when Jo sells it,, my one true beauty may just well by my hands. They are older now and showing their wear and tear, but, they have served me well – and I can still wear a pair of children’s gloves!

I love to take pictures of hands, especially of this little darling, just learning to pick up bits of cereal to put into her mouth. I love young hands and old hands and all hands in between. They tell a lot about a person, don’t you think?

When I was in high school and on the student newspaper, I had the opportunity to meet the actress Carol Lawrence. Besides being married to the handsome Robert Goulet, whom all young girls at the time pined for, she was a singer and dancer and star in her own right – and a graduate of my high school. I remember the sponsor of the newspaper remarking that Miss Lawrence was so talented, and she was a hard worker as well, just look at her hands! I did, of course, and they were the hands of someone not afraid to use them. It is funny what things we notice in life and what things stay with us.

My grandmother did beautiful work when she crocheted. My sister has an intricate doily that Yia Yia made, long before we were born. It is long and made with ecru thread and spells out our family surname. My sister displays it and I admire it when I see it, glad that it is in a good home. I wonder however Yia Yia came to craft it. She couldn’t read or write, yet, somehow must have followed a pattern to create such lasting beauty.

There is among the family lore, told around the dinner table, passed around like dishes laden with dolmades or spanakopita or pastichio, a story of how our Yia Yia crocheted. It seems our cousin Mary Jane, while still very young, did or said something untoward about her mother. My grandmother heard it and quickly retorted, in her broken English and strong sense of rightfulness,

“Mary Jane, you don’t crochet your mother!”.

Of course, she meant appreciate, but, the message got across just the same.

Do you crochet  or knit?

More importantly, do you crochet your mother?

What do your hands say about you?

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